METAIRIE, La. – Ask any Saints fan what the lasting image from New Orleans' last foray into Seattle is and you're likely to get the same answer no matter who you ask.
Marshawn Lynch, somehow finding a way through a scrum of linemen, then darting down the right sideline while breaking at least five tackles to get into the end zone and all but put New Orleans out of the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl.
“I mean, it was ridiculous,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was one of the best runs that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I had to be on the other sideline for that. The guy is a phenomenal player and I think you can pretty much flip on any game and watch him do that to somebody. It wasn’t just us. He does that to a lot of people.”
That run on Jan. 8, 2011 officially welcomed Lynch to the world. It was the day his nickname – Beast Mode – stuck.
He has been on a tear ever since and, heading into Monday night’s NFC showdown between the Saints (9-2) and Seahawks (10-1), nearly has as many yards on the ground (925) as nine combined New Orleans players (1,075).
Lynch is fourth in the NFL in rushing and his 1,147 total yards is seventh-best this season.
With all due respect to quarterback Russell Wilson, the running back is the centerpiece of the Seahawks’ offense.
“He’s the head of the train,” said Saints linebacker David Hawthorne, Lynch’s teammate in Seattle for two seasons. “He’s the engine. You’ve got to have a plan for him. He’s an elite back. Everybody knows that. The whole world sees him just run.”
Hawthorne said the key to stopping Lynch is to “stick to the script” and for each player to not try to do more than their specific role requires.
Lately, the Saints have done just that. In the past three weeks, they’ve held Dallas to 89 yards rushing, San Francisco to 81 and Atlanta to 91. Frank Gore, ninth in the NFL with 737 yards, gained only 48 yards on 13 carries.
And in the past three weeks, they’ve gone from 25th in the NFL against the run to 15th.
But stopping Lynch, and sticking to the script, is easier said than done.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lynch has more 100-yard games since 2011 – 19 – than any other player in the NFL. And this season alone he had 28 runs of at least 10 yards and six of at least 20.
You can’t just arm tackle him, either. Pro Football Focus has him with 566 yards after contact, third-best in the NFL, and the site has him with a league-best 55 forced missed tackles.
“This is one of the games you go into – you say it every week – but this week you have to be able to stop the run,” Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson said. “We know that. Everybody knows that.”
But it’s that 67-yard video game-like touchdown run in the 2010 Wild Card round of the playoffs that officially put Lynch on the map.
The Saints had pulled to within 34-30 on Garrett Hartley’s 21-yard field goal and, after being behind by as much as 14 points, were back in the game. New Orleans had just stuffed him for no gain on first-and-10 and was in good position to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead.
New Orleans had six players on the line of scrimmage for the second down play.
Lynch took the handoff and went at the left guard, running into Scott Shanle, who missed the tackle. After breaking through the line, he ran through the clutches of Darren Sharper and Remi Ayodele.
Then he broke the grasp of Jabari Greer, threw Tracy Porter to the ground and escaped the last-try shoestring tackle of Alex Brown.
Nearly four years later, Saints safety Roman Harper can at least laugh about it.
“No, it’s kind of funny,” Harper said. “It just is what it is. You can always say you were there. That’s probably the only good thing about it.”